By Sig Christenson
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) People have said Tammie Jo Shults has had a longtime love affair with flying. The lessons started early on, when she entered the Navy in 1985. In those days women were forbidden from serving in combat aviation jobs, but Navy Cmdr. Ron Flanders said Shults was among the first to transition to tactical aircraft.
The seat belt sign was still on as 144 passengers and five crew members were settling in aboard a flight from New York to Dallas when registered nurse Peggy Phillips heard a noise and guessed, correctly, that an engine had exploded.
At the controls Tuesday morning was Tammie Jo Shults, a former Navy fighter pilot who suddenly had to guide Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 to an emergency landing on its one remaining engine.
The Boeing 737 was shaking and shuddering. Pieces of the engine shattered a window and injured a passenger. The rapid decompression sucked her partially through the window before others pulled her back.
“It was not like any noise I’ve ever heard in my life. … pretty close to a jackhammer that had a different tone to it,” said Phillips, 68, of Dallas. “It was incredibly loud.”
Jennifer Riordan of Albuquerque died despite efforts by Phillips and two others who performed CPR during a terrifying descent and landing in Philadelphia, where paramedics boarded the plane.
But Shults, 56, who greeted and hugged passengers after the ordeal, kept a bad situation from becoming much worse.
A recording of her steady, matter-of-fact conversation with air traffic controllers went viral, making her an instant national hero.
She had years of experience as one of the Navy’s first female aviators who later served as an F/A18 Hornet instructor in which she played an “aggressor” pilot in mock dogfights.